My wife and I have managed to get one kid from birth and almost through his fourth year of college, and two others through 8th and 9th grade without too much trouble (as of the time of this writing).
We’ve made some mistakes by being too easy at times, and probably a complete pain in the ass in others. But that’s OK. Along the way I’ve made some observations about what it takes to help a kid become an independent adult.
I’m not a child psychologist, and really have no idea what I’m talking about from an academic perspective, I just know what has worked in our case, with our kids.
The 7 Things
1. Make them do something around the house.
Back in the “old days” these used to be called chores. It’s good for a kid to be responsible for something. Have them keep their room clean, collect laundry and bring to the washing machine, make dinner, pack lunch for school, load the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, keep the yard cleaned up, mow the grass, take out the trash, bring the trash cans back to the house, pick up the mail, etc. Uh, wait…not all this stuff, just one or two things.
2. Help them start a business
There is an extreme amount of confidence and security that comes with being able to make money appear out of nowhere. It is a mindset that needs to be developed that will be pretty disturbing. It isn’t necessary to “get a job” but that is what we always fall back on.
Even people that have started a company think “Man, maybe I should quit this nonsense and just get a job.” Why do business owners think that? Because jobs are easy. But anyone that has owned their own business before, and then later gone to work for someone else, will tell you “Having a job sucks.”
3. Get them involved in a sport
Competition and teamwork. Even sports thought of as solo sports such as running and swimming are team based. In real life there are winners and losers. Sports conditions the body through exercise and the mind through learning plays, dealing with the mental rush of defeating opponents, and the pain of losing a hard fought battle.
Everyone can not win. Sure you get out on the field and “do your best”, but sometimes your best just isn’t good enough, and that’s a great life lesson. That’s where practice and coaching comes in, to make yourself better at something. These lessons translate directly to life. Your kids must be coachable, they must be able to operate in a team environment, they must be able to pull together and grunt it out through tough times, they must be able to sit down and learn something new, and practice new things to develop skills.
Develop a winning mindset. Nothing is too hard, quitting is never an option.
We need to stop the mental bullshit we are drilling into our kids heads that everyone’s a winner.
4. Have them learn an instrument, then join a band
A group of 6th graders walk into a room, some have played an instrument, most have not. The band teacher has each kid try out a few different instruments trying to identify natural talent then assigns a kid an instrument. The kid takes the instrument home, learns to play a few notes, learns how to play a scale.
The teacher teaches each section their part, the kids play the part expected of them.
By Christmas, the band can play a song that everyone in the audience can recognize. The kids keep practicing and learning new songs over the spring. By the time the last concert before summer break rolls around, the band is playing fairly complicated songs and the teacher is beaming. The kids are pumped, the parents are amazed.
Learning how to play an instrument is a very rewarding skill that takes discipline and patience.
Learning how to play in a band is just another team sport, there are competitions too. Practice, performance, competition. It’s all very, very good for young (and old) minds.
5. Encourage them to read
Reading is a topic that I can literally spend hours talking about, but unfortunately I wouldn’t know where to start in actually teaching someone to read. Although, when my oldest son was about 4, we bought a collection of beginner books on a trip up to Baltimore and he started reading in a few days. The teachers at my kids (private) school made reading both fun and socially acceptable.
Every kid in the school read and it became a competition.
Competition is good!
Reading opens up worlds that many don’t know exist. It is a way to learn new things without having to set foot in a classroom. Reading is one of those habits that is formed over time.
The Pew Research Center studies who reads (or who doesn’t read) and reports that those with higher incomes and more education read more:
“Women are more likely than men to have read a book in the previous 12 months, and those with higher levels of income and education are more likely to have done so as well.”
Books are expensive, libraries aren’t. Cost isn’t a factor. Get your kid a library card, encourage them to go to the library in their school.
You can find a library near you at WorldCat: http://www.worldcat.org/libraries
Open Library is an initiative of the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form.
Having a condition that prevents your child from reading physical books doesn’t have to be a barrier. Bookshare makes reading possible. Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities. More than 425,000 people in 70 countries have access to Bookshare’s collection of 631,251 titles.
6. Encourage them to volunteer, and then go with them.
Find people and places in your community that need help and offer your time.
Food banks often need help loading boxes and distributing, community kitchens need help cooking and serving, pet shelters need help feeding and cleaning, libraries need help putting books back on the shelf.
7. Be a good example
The pressure is on, because this one is on you.
You might think that it’s too late to play sports, join a band, or learn something new but it isn’t.
The only time it is too late to do something is when you are dead, and that day is coming.
Use every single day to do something for yourself, and in turn do something good for those around you, specifically your kids.